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“The Walls in Your House Sing Again”

This is a true story submitted to Chump Lady by her Aunt J.

Ladies and Gentlemen (because men have cheating wives), life does get better after you get through the horrors of a cheating spouse. My second husband and I both had cheating first spouses though our stories are not exactly similar.

My first husband had a hardscrabble childhood with his dad’s early death, a mother who couldn’t cope, foster care for a while, living on the “wrong side of the tracks,” being told he was stupid and couldn’t go to college, then enlisting in the Navy before he would be drafted in 1953. The Navy changed his life because he did well, discovered he had a brain, and after four years in the service, put himself through college by working three jobs and carrying a full academic load. We met in science classes, married five days after my graduation (he was six years older than I), both worked a year, he decided to go to law school and began right after our first daughter was born.

Success followed in law school and in practice in Chicago. Because of health problems, his mother moved in with us and stayed until her death 7 years later. Initially, it wasn’t easy, but after a few months, we had a really good relationship and the girls adored her (second daughter was been born 6 years after the first). However, the lure of the fast-moving, big boat sailing crowd in the city in the early 1970s took hold with its ethos of drinking, bedding younger women, and partying (I know not everyone in the sailing world is like this…he just happened to find the group that was and enjoyed every minute).

He traveled constantly for the firm and after seeing him in action at sailing parties, I realized he was lying about his trips. I snooped in his briefcase one night after he had passed out — and found a return flight ticket from Savannah when he was supposed to have been in Washington. I confronted him, he had no reaction, just walked out.

A few months later he decided he didn’t want the suburban life, raising two daughters and having a wife. He moved out, bought a condo in the city, and went his merry way, sort of. Our girls were 14 and 7 when he left (freshman and second grade). They were devastated, but I was beyond devastated and asked all the same questions everyone does: What did I do wrong? Wasn’t I good enough? Did I not do all the right things? Should I get counseling? (I did, he wouldn’t, and it was the best thing I could have done to understand the dynamics of the marriage, such as it was at that point.) What will our friends think? (They all saw it coming and were thrilled for me because he was such a bastard the last couple of years.) How do I tell the family? (My brother and I, according to my sister-in-law, were not programmed to fail [she was correct] and I had failed in the most important relationship ever.) What could and should I do?

Well, let me tell you, I had been beaten down psychologically and emotionally but didn’t realize it. Over the years, my whole personality had changed. I definitely was an enabler for his drinking because I was afraid not to be. He wouldn’t have abused me physically because he wasn’t all that big, and I probably could have easily defended myself. Psychological and emotional abuse is just as destructive, in some ways worse because it is insidious and not obvious to outsiders. For 18 months I was completely afraid to hire a lawyer because I couldn’t gauge his potential reaction and I feared he’d stop supporting the girls and me. I was working part-time but didn’t earn nearly enough to keep the house and stay where we were. His lawyer was one of his partners. After 5 years of inaction or bogus but effective delays on his part, his lawyer finally said he’d have to give me the house and pay sufficient spousal and child support, or he’d drop the case and he’d have to start over. Ultimately, I gave up all claims on his pension, investments, boat, two condos, and future income so I could have the house and spousal/child support. To his credit, over the years he was always good about money and did put both girls through undergraduate college.

By the time it was over, I had regained my personality, strength, zest for life, and relationships with friends and family who were always supportive and “on my side.” I had started to date toward the end, after my lawyer said it would be OK. (OK for him to cheat and have women but I better not date.) I really didn’t want to date at first because I was too wrapped up in my own problems and wouldn’t do that to my girls, who still thought maybe this was a passing fancy on his part. Once I did start to date, turns out they were not big fans of the two men I dated at different times.

Then, about two months before I signed the final papers (on Halloween no less) I had a phone call from my mother. She and my dad had moved back to the town where I was raised after my dad retired. My high school sweetheart (M) and his wife had separated. We’d stayed in touch over the years, exchanging Christmas cards and photos of our children. She and I had been friends from the age of 8, long before I met my sweetheart in high school. We were all friends, ran in the same crowd during school; he and I dated exclusively after sophomore year until we broke up just before graduation. He and she began seeing each other and were married after college. According to my mother, his mother said M was the aggrieved party, she had been having an affair with the priest from her church, and wanted a divorce. Everyone in town was shocked because they were the quintessential perfect couple to the rest of the world. He had the house, the family’s summer cottage, and their two children, aged 14 and 16. Yes, she was leaving her husband and children for an alcoholic, cheating priest!

M was a wreck, according to his mom; my mom simply said to me, “Do with this information what you will.” Took me a while and right after I signed my own divorce papers, I wrote to M, expressing my concerns, I knew what it was like to be cheated on (he’d known for a while and despite her protestations that the affair had ended, it didn’t), to be left with all the responsibility because the cheater obviously didn’t want any of the issues of raising children, etc. My only words of advice were to avoid bad-mouthing her to the children. I tried not to do that with my ex to my girls because that can really totally disastrous. Children are far more perceptive than we realize; they figure it out eventually. I didn’t hear back from M right away but when I did, it was like we were 16 years old again.

Our high school reunion was scheduled for the next summer (this was now November) and he asked if I planned to come or would I be coming home before then. I was planning a trip with the girls to visit my parents that Christmas. I did visit, M and I saw each other and the 25 years melted away. I think we both knew at that point, we would eventually be together. He had to wait until the next fall for his divorce to be final, but in that time, we saw each other when we could despite the distance, my girls adored him right from the start, and we were married about a year after his divorce was final, when it was a good time for me to move my younger daughter after she finished 8th grade (older daughter was in college).

We bought a house, he moved to it in May, I moved in July, and we combined families, with children who were 14, 16, 18, and 21 when we married.

Our children are now all in their 40s, have children and we have a wonderful relationship with each other. We have never thought in terms of “step”; as far as we’re concerned we have 4 adult children and 7 wonderful grandchildren. They all get along, we have marvelous times together.

We still see his ex when she comes to see her children, we get along with her; her alcoholic priest husband never comes with her on these visits. The fact that we get along makes it so much easier for the children and grandchildren, no conflicts and actually, we all have a good time.

My cheating, ex-husband died of alcoholism nearly 20 years ago. He never remarried. After a heart attack and open-heart surgery, he would not stop drinking and drank himself to death. He was 60 and had several opportunities to get off the booze and reclaim his life. He couldn’t/didn’t and ultimately committed a slow form of suicide, which was very sad.

Yes, folks, life does return after a cheater is caught and either leaves or is thrown out. (I never had the courage to do that; in retrospect, the best thing he ever did was leave me, though I didn’t think so at the time). Have the strength and fortitude to rid yourself of a cheating spouse. It took me a long time to adjust to my situation, but when I did after 18 months, and finally took action, the relief was palpable. One friend said “the walls in your house sing again.”

I started moving ahead for my sake and for the sake of my daughters. They are well-adjusted women, who came to terms with their father, his actions, and especially his alcoholism, over the years. My husband’s children have done the same with their mother. Don’t give up hope because better days do follow the agony and tears, humiliation and hurt, stress and strain, and attempts to hold everything together. It isn’t easy, but it can be done.

I realize not everyone hooks up with a former sweetheart, but decent men and women are out there, people who will respect and love you and who will honor the marriage vows. We’ve now been married 27 years, longer than either of us was the first time around. I like the old Sinatra song, “Love is better the second time around!” Yep, it is! Don’t rush into another relationship, give yourself a chance to adjust, figure out who you are and what you want. When the opportunity presents itself, you’ll know and you’ll know whether that person is the right one for you. Until then, smile through the tears…you can do it and good things will happen.

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  • Great story. I was married to an alcoholic lawyer. We met in law school. My dad was an alcoholic lawyer(but he sobered up for the last 25 years of his life).

    Bad combo: smart, combative alcoholics who want to win at all costs and fight dirty as hell.
    Glad you are out and met a good guy(many of us lawyers are among the most honorable people, despite all the bad pub and jokes).

    • Had to laugh, Arnold. My aunt and I had this in common — my serial cheater ex-husband was a lawyer too! (And he drank too much as well). I swore them off, for the reasons you mention — combative, win at all costs, arrogant, etc.

      I’m happily remarried now… to a trial lawyer. (And he’s totally “honorable” as you say).

    • This is an excellent read— she’s right- DON’T rush into a new relationship- trust me, give yourself time to heal and recover.I wish I had listened to my heart and not gone forth with husband #2 whom I have just discovered has either A) just started trolling looking for his next victim, I mean, lover; B) has been doing it all along, I just finally found proof. Either way, if I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t!!! Stay strong, people!!!

  • Great post, Chumplady. I’m about ten months out and am slowly coming to the realisation that as tough as this is I’m happier and more light than I have been in a long time. I was blind to a lot and although the future is scary as hell I’m ready for it.

    STBX still emails me daily with ‘huh, what? you’re still mad at me? Why?’ I just hit delete most of the time, unless he starts messing around about money. He’s miserable, has few real friends, I’m getting happier every day and have a fantastic group of friends who have supported me beyond my wildest dreams. And funnily enough? I*m making more friends every day, one of whom today told me I was so cute and cheerful that she can’t imagine any man NOT wanting me. 🙂

    • Way to go JL! Don’t be scared of your new beginning. From what I read, it sounds like you sloughed off a “miserable” person and gained a bunch of fantastic, happy people in your life. He’s pitiful? Too bad, so sad.

      • I wish I could go no contact with fucktard. but alas we have a MASSIVE handful son on the autistic spectrum… who’s soon to be no longer under the jurisdiction of our public school system.
        I talk to him as little as possible, however. I need to get out more. but its tough for me.
        and now, I’m just petrified. period. i know too much. and it ain’t pretty.

  • This is such a wonderful, inspired sharing. When you take the hard steps to stick up for yourself, you clear the space and make room for better things–and people.
    Some friends I have known want to wait until all of those better things and people happen in their lives before they leave, or proceed with the divorce, but I haven’t yet seen it work that way. For everyone who has taken the courageous step to leave and find that life sucks in the interim, just hold on. You will be amazed! One of my favorite sayings: Audaces fortuna iuvat
    Translation: “Fortune favors the brave.”(Virgil, Aeneid 10,284)
    Be brave and your walls will sing again too!

  • BTW, you and your now husband are much better looking than your cheating husband. He looks like a weasel.
    I know, superficial, but it is true. How that guy got you is beyond me.

  • What a beautiful ending! Thanks for sharing the inspirational story of reaching the other side. I am slushing through crap right now and it is hard for me to see past anything else… Inspirational stories like these are so encouraging. Bless your aunt and bless you ChumpLady for helping others to stay strong.

  • wait! you have children in their 40s??? I just assumed that you were in your 40s. :] Your writing is so young and full of life. I dunno… 26 years now, for me. I finally left 12 weeks ago. It wasn’t just the infidelity. I got tired of being deemed invisible. But I guess it goes hand in hand with the “all about me” attitude. “OH, you have feelings Laurel? I had no idea! I’m so, so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you…I was just selfish. (ya think?) Can’t you just look forward???”

    no. fucktard. I cannot. you were the first man I EVER trusted and you took my vulnerability and love and you annihilated it. (I wrote a lot more, but blessedly… I had the sense to delete it) xo ~ L

    • No — that’s not me! I’m just collecting stories. The first one here (reposting on the web now, as a call for more) is my aunt.

      I think she and her story are inspirational. She’s been happily remarried 27 years to another former chump. Me? Just two years.

      • oh!!!!!!!!!! I get it now. I need to keep reading your blog from the beginning. there’s so much on there. struggling. damn it. I know what I need to do, but feel paralyzed. I need to GET THE FUCK OUTTA HERE!!! do stuff. make new friends. never had many to begin with. Its very difficult when your kids are beating up on other people’s kids and when your h doesn’t ever want to have anyone over. but enough of the excuses! just can’t believe that my husband (who BTW deplored this behavior in OTHER men) was preying on women left and right the second I was out the door. ugh. How does one learn to trust ANYONE, ever again? He was so kind. so stable. so loving. bleeeech.
        until he wasn’t.

    • So did I. All his words are flooding back today and I can’t seem to escape them……” You’re worthless.” “Cold”. “No one will ever want or love you.” “Ugly” “a waste of space”. I try and push them away and they come right back.

      • Keep pushing, Kathy, KEEP PUSHING those lies away!!

        His poo is all lies. Filthy, ugly lies. It is only him ‘projecting’ his inward ugliness outward—-and you are the closest target. (Read Richard Skerritt’s books: and others, as well—just can not call the names to mind at the moment….will post if I remember)

        Therefore, learn to ‘duck and dodge’! If you do, his ‘projecting’ will just fly right past you! It is a learned skill, but learn it you must!

        You ARE NOT defined by what someone does to you (or says to you). You are defined by what you do to others………

        Love to all……….

        • I read Skerritt’s ” Meaning from Madness” and found it helpful. His other book is Tears and Healing. I think he has one or two more.
          It is amazing how so many of us dealijg with infidelity have been led to researching personality disorders. I am convinced that a very high % of cheaters are disordered.
          Just thunk about their comfort level with lying, verbally and emotionally abusing and the entiltement issues cheaters have. They fit the personality disordered criteria very well.

          • Arnold,

            Glad you found those excellent resources!! I have three of Mr. Skerritt’s books and have benefited enormously from all three.

            I totally agree about infidelity & character disorders going hand in hand.

            Anyone that is dealing with more than a single instance of adultery, a true moment of weakness (yes, I do believe that actually happens occasionally, though very rare—I personally know of only 2) will not be able to deal with it unless they come to understand about disordered personalities.

            Keep educating others about these disordered ones at every opportunity!! It may well save someone’s life!

            Love to all…….

  • Forged, I am convinced that the estimates on the % of PDs among is is way low. I believe that some studies indicate somewhere in the 2-4% of the population range. Yet, I see NPD behaviors a lot, in a ton of folks.
    I believe this is due to the fact that the studies seem to only include folks diagnosed with a PD , and, as we know , these folks seldom seel treatment. If they do, many psychologists give them a different diagnosis so as to avoid stigmatizing them and in order to get insurance companies to continue to fund the treatment(since PDs are intractible, insurance may refuse to cover the cost of therapy with a PD diagnosis,)
    Just like infidelity is, apparently, fairly rampant, so are PDs, IMO.

    • Arnold,
      In the books I have that are written by Bill Eddy, he sites studies that approximate a larger percentage, closer to 25% of the population. And those studies did not include Narcisstic Personality Disorder!

      Yes, it is certainly increasing.

      And, yes, I have come to understand that few with these disorders are ever diagnosed properly & professionally, quite often for the reasons you cited. My NPD was diagnosed ‘by proxy’ by an NLP counselor. However, I was already fully aware that he was; was just nice to have a professional make the same diagnosis!

      This is another reason that those of us that have experienced such things need to educate those that have not. Hard for some to understand that just because an individual does not seek mental health assistance that they have no issues! The disordered claim they ‘have no issues’ (they usually have the most issues!) therefore why would they need help?!?! aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh! Run away from them fast and far!

      Another misconception I encounter in explaining to others what I am dealing with is they think that people with personality disorders are ‘easy-to-spot physcos’. There is a wide range of degrees of ‘disorder’ and they are often actually very high-functioning and intelligent in many areas of life.

      My NPD mate is actually at the milder end of the spectrum, so I am actually able to interact with him on a limited basis. (We co-own a business and have joint custody of our pets) However, I no longer live with him and will likely divorce him when I have the means.

      Also, have you read Dr. George Simon’s books yet? If you have not, they are must reads! I learned about his books from the same counselor who ‘diagnosed’ my NPD mate.

      Thanks for the comments! Forge on, my friend, forge on!

  • Forged, I have watched Simon on youtube, but not read his books.
    Yes, you are right, many folks do not understand that the vast majority of these disordered types are not easy to spot right away. During courtship, they mask and mirror, and, before all this reading , I was ill equipped to spot the minor red flags that were shown. My XWs charm and glibness fooled me. It was not until after marriage and kids and other entanglements that the mask came off completely, although shortly after marriage I sensed the change.
    The high functioning ones are particularly good at making you doubt yourself and presenting a false image to outsiders. Behind closed doors, they are very different.
    Knowing about the existence of these types and being able to spot them to a certain extent is a blessing and a curse. One is left much more cynical and guarded in relatiionships thereafter.

    • Arnold, I see that I am replying to your post of a year ago. I have been under the spell of my STBX for over 23 years. He should win an Oscar for the show he puts on every day. He checks off every box in the narcissism spectrum and tops it off by being very intelligent so he can mask it, even from himself. I have doubted my sanity, intelligence, self-worth and even my own eyes. I am 2 1/2 years post Dday. Even though I have recovered from the shock and depth of his betrayal, I have yet to recover from years of mental abuse. I am broken and sometimes feel beyond repair. I keep moving forward but the past few weeks I have regressed. Fear keeps me from thinking logically. Fear is deafening and blinding.

  • Just wanted you to know, that this story, was a part of saving my life! I thanked God already, now let me say “Thank you”

  • My husband continues to tell me that he wants the marriage and me back. But I refuse to hear his lies. I hope I am making the right decision and not look back with regret. I am in no contact and hope to find peace soon. This is very hard for me because even though it’s my choice not to go back, I still feel very rejected and not loved. Being abandoned and sent to a boarding school when i was 6 has left me doubting my self worth all my life. I am trying to feel whole for the first time in my life and I feel I don’t need another person for that to happen. It is inspiring to see true love and happiness after so much heartache and thank you for sharing your story.

  • Aunt J.,
    Your story is wonderful! Give me seven years & I might date again. It took me three years to get to where I am… which is very shy of where I was when I first met Loki. We were married for ten years & ten years to recover is an honest estimate. Thanks for the timeline. You sure have the experience and wisdom & a beautiful story/family!

  • This is a fantastic story. It should be considered the ‘Chump manifesto’ and pinned to the homepage. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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